NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Tuesday, November 15, 2022

What is Toxic Positivity?

While there are many benefits to positive thinking, including stress relief and increased resilience, toxic positivity is harmful.   

Toxic positivity rejects difficult emotions with an attitude of "good vibes" only.  It aims to present a facade of inauthentic cheerfulness. 

Rather than allowing yourself or others to acknowledge difficult emotions, you invalidate these experiences with toxic positivity (see my articles: What is Emotional Validation? and What is Self Validation?).

What is Toxic Positivity?

Toxic positivity only allows for positive emotions at the expense of your true emotions.  Over time, when you engage in toxic positivity, instead of being genuine, you create a false self (see my article:  What is a False Self?).

Signs of Toxic Positivity
  • Minimizing or dismissing your own experiences or the experiences of others
  • Denying genuine emotions such as sadness, anger, grief, feelings of loss or helplessness or other challenging emotions
  • Shaming yourself or others for having difficult emotions
  • Wanting to feel only "good vibes" all the time
  • Feeling guilty for feeling difficult emotions
  • Being intolerant of difficult emotions
  • Feeling the need to be constantly busy in order to push down difficult emotions (see my article: Are You "Keeping Busy" to Avoid Painful Emotions?)
And so on.

Examples of Toxic Positivity
Toxic positivity can take many forms.  The following examples are just a few of the things that people say to themselves or to others, which are often meant to be helpful but which minimize, dismiss and invalidate genuine emotions:
  • Death of a Loved One: Going through grief after the death of a loved one is a normal experience (see my article: Allowing Room For Grief).
    • Invalidating statements include:
      • "You shouldn't feel sad." 
      • "She's in a better place."
      • "He wouldn't have wanted you to be so sad."
      • "It's been six months. Why are you still so sad?"
  • Breakup of a Relationship: Ending a relationship, even one that was unhealthy, is a loss and it's important to acknowledge and work through that loss (see my article: 7 Reasons You Might Be Struggling With a Breakup).
    • Invalidating statements include:
      • "You're better off without him."
      • "Why are you so sad when you were the one who broke up with her?"
      • "Just get back out there and find someone else."
      • "The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else."
  • Loss of a Job: The loss of a job, even a difficult job, is still a loss (see my article: Job Loss and Loss of Identity).
    • Invalidating statements include:
      • "Look at the bright side. Now you don't have to deal with your difficult boss."
      • "Cheer up. It's not the end of the world."
      • "It's only a job. No one died."
      • "It's not as bad as it seems."
      • "Look for the silver lining. Now you have more time to relax."
  • A Serious Medical Diagnosis: Getting news about a serious medical diagnosis can be frightening (see my article: Serious Medical Problems Can Change the Way You Feel About Yourself).
    • Invalidating statements include:
      • "Stop complaining. Other people have it much worse than you."
      • "Stop worrying. Just be positive."
      • "Don't make a mountain out of a mole hill."
      • "Stop being so negative."
      • "It will all be okay."
  • Coping With a Traumatic Experience: Reactions to trauma are unique for each person. What might not be traumatic for one person--even someone from the same family--might be traumatic for another (see my article: When Your Traumatic Past Lives on in the Present).
    • Invalidating statements include:
      • "You think that's traumatic? When I was a kid, I had it much worse."
      • "It's all in your head."
      • "Stop being so negative."
      • "I thought you were stronger than that."

Next Article:
In my next article, I'll discuss the harmful effects of toxic positivity and how to avoid them: Why is Toxic Positivity Harmful?.

About Me
I am a licensed New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT, Somatic Experiencing and Sex Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.